On the 7th of June, South Africa lost a man who not only vastly contributed to our scientific understanding of our origins, but who was an ardent, tireless human rights campaigner. According to The Daily Maverick,
Though Tobias is legendary for unearthing man’s ancient ancestry, back home it was his huge regard for humanity and his active struggle against Apartheid that made him a true son of the South African soil. Born in Durban on 14 October 1925, Tobias moved to Johannesburg to study science and medicine at Wits University a few years before the dark shroud of apartheid started to become a legislated evil. “Only a few years after I arrived here, the Apartheid regime came to power under DF Malan and they won that fateful election on an Apartheid platform. Every branch of society was to be segregated. Discrimination was to be enforced between the haves and the have-nots, between black and white South Africans,” Tobias said when he received the Walter Sisulu Special Contribution Award in 2007.
In this stunning obituary written by the Los Angeles Times, Tobias was more than just a world-class academic: he was the finest of teachers.
He leaves behind no family, but said he was proud of a different gift to humanity: a cultural legacy for the thousands of students he taught and inspired.
“I am married to my work, the [University of Witwatersrand] medical school and the anatomy department at Wits. I also have a large family of around 10,000 children — my students,” he said in a 2010 interview.
“I like to believe that I have given something valuable to every one of them, and I can tell you quite honestly that almost every one of them has given something very valuable to me, and I remember them as my own family,” he said in comments recorded on the Cradle of Humankind website.
Watch Professor Tobias speak at the 3rd Annual Human Evolution Symposium: